Friday, July 26, 2013

Pacer's Report: 2013 TRT 50 Mile - Wind Sucking Walk of Shame

"I may regret this, but I happened to be on ultra signup at midnight last night, and registered for the Tahoe Rim Trail 50"

That was the text message I received on New Year's Day from David as he nonchalantly goaded me: "Want to pace me?"

Marlette and Tahoe Distract from the Single Track
The course is one of the prettiest in the country. A fifty mile loop containing three lollipop loops, the views are spectacular; it is a west coast bucket list race for anyone who is paying attention.

I was on the fence for most of the summer due to injury. David offered me an out a couple of times, but my recovery was coming along, so I kept the option open. As race day drew near, he admitted that if he had to choose one race for me to pace him, it would be the Pine to Palm 100 in September. His anxiety about 100 miles was eclipsing the upcoming TRT 50, and he was redefining the race as a supported training run. His relaxed goals, combined with my injury finally abating in the week leading up to the race, convinced me that pacing him the last 20 miles at elevation would be a good idea. Not quite a piece of cake, but not too difficult, I lied to myself. Twirly placated me by biting her tongue.

Diamond Peak aid station party
Twirly and I arrived at the Diamond Peak aid station, the 30 mile mark, around 10 am, just in time to see the leaders of the 100 mile event go through. We set up a chair and umbrella and I got ready to run. Not expecting David to reach our location until after noon, we socialized and cheered runners as they arrived. I saw Victor Ballesteros looking strong and Bryon Powell looking like hell (they would both go on to drop out of the 50 mile and 100 mile, respectively). Other familiar faces trickled through in varying states of fortitude. Tony Nguyen (aka Endorphin Dude) was nearby and provided entertainment for spectators and racers alike.

This crew had a sign that said "next loop we'll be naked"
The hose before the climb
David was texting us pictures and updates from the course, and I revised his expected time of arrival as necessary. He showed up at ten after twelve, looking hot, hungry and bright eyed. I grabbed his hydration pack, bottle and bandanna and ran to fill them with ice and water while Twirly helped him with his drop bag supplies. Within a few minutes, we were slamming smoothies and getting hosed down in preparation for the grueling climb up to the top of the ski area. Roughly 2000 feet in two miles on loose, sandy terrain made for the most carnage of any spot on the race course. The hill was littered with runners clustered in the sparse shade. The 100 milers would have to do it again at mile 80, which is why I will likely never do the TRT 100.

David and I set a brisk hiking pace up the road, talking about his race thus far. A few racers were coming back down the hill towards us, intending to drop out rather than continue suffering up the black diamond ski runs. David's watch read 37% grade at one point, and I began feeling the altitude trying to suffocate me as I trudged along. We reached the steeper upper section of the ski run and David held a steady and purposeful hiking stride. Slowly he slipped away, and by the time I crested the climb, he had gapped me by about two minutes. Fortunately, the Bull Wheel aid station distracted him long enough for me to catch up.
The solace of shade

The course levelled out, then began descending, continuing south on the Tahoe Rim Trail. We clipped off some good miles in this section, running in a small train. Views of Lake Tahoe were a challenging distraction while cruising through picture postcard Sierra single track. As we neared the Tunnel Creek aid station, I felt the familiar rumblings of GI issues. Fortunately, David wanted to take off his shoes and socks to dry out his feet, so I had time to visit the facilities. After filling hydration packs, bottles and bandana with ice, we were off again, this time just the two of us.

Feeling the altitude
The course continued south along the TRT while cresting Herlan and Marlette peaks. The ridge offered spectacular views to the east and west, and thunderclouds were forming as the weather began to turn. David continued to run strong, and easily gapped me on ascents. He had a spring in his step as he power hiked, and I knew I was holding him back. As we rounded Marlette Peak, I let him go. I kept a steady pace and caught up to him at the Hobart aid station, where he was tending to his needs. I refilled my bottles and hat with ice, and set out while David was sponging off. I knew if I did not get out in front of him my day of pacing would be over.

I managed to hold him off for about a mile, after which he once again began to gap me as we climbed to Snow Valley Peak. "Go ahead, you're killing it and I'm just holding you back!" I said. He offered sympathy and reassurance, noting that he had been training hard all summer and I was coming off an injury and a sea-level training base, before he disappeared around the next turn. At mile 42, I had been dropped; liberated and humbled in the dust, I just kept making forward progress.

With eight miles to go, I took stock of my condition. I had not run more than ten miles since American River 50 in April, and my legs still felt good. I hiked up to the peak, astounded that my heart rate was over my MAF rate just walking! I continued on, running the flats and hiking the ups, enjoying the stellar views of Lake Marlette and Lake Tahoe below.
I almost set up shop right here.

The Snow Valley Peak aid station was manned by a Boy Scout Troop from Carson City. They had posted entertaining and motivational signs along the trail, letting the runners know how far they had to go, and how awesome they were for being there. The views of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding mountains left me speechless at times. Not that I had anyone to talk to. I yo-yo'd with a woman and her pacer for a while, but her incessant groaning and negative attitude created a black cloud over what was otherwise a beautiful summer afternoon. I pulled over and ate a Picky Bar, allowing them to pass by.
But managed to keep moving
I took a spell in a chair while I ate some aid station fare at Snow Valley Peak aid station, watching motivated 50 milers prepare for the final descent to the finish. I ended up chasing a Jenn Shelton wanna-be back out onto the course, and she also promptly dropped me. As I ran down the hill, I realized my stomach had stopped emptying; it sloshed with each step. I ran what I could, but the trail wasn't douche grade, having just enough rocks and overgrown grass to force a mindful foot placement. 

After a few miles of a full belly, I pulled over to pee, and found a nice Newcastle Ale eluting from my bladder. Having nothing on the line made it an easy decision to stop running and start drinking everything I had. I walked the rest of the descent (fully fantasizing about running it in full sometime in the future). I kept texting Twirly along the way and once David finished (11:12 - 19th man, 27th overall), we made plans to meet at the Spooner Summit aid station about a mile from the finish. 

Dropping out of a race as a pacer?!? Actually, I think this was the best way for me to drop from my first race. I had nothing on the line, and my runner was in awesome shape and didn't need me. I had nothing to prove and no one to support, yet the last few miles of that run felt shameful. Running keeps dealing out the humility. At least there is the promise of pride for balance.

A few friends have made the point that being dropped was the best thing I could have done for my runner. It is a huge confidence boost to outrun a friend with fresh legs. I have to admit it has ignited a fire inside me; now that my injury has healed, I need to get back into race shape.

Four weeks to Tamalpa Headlands 50K.


  1. Great report Ken!

    I haven't had the privilege of pacing any one yet and what happened to you is my biggest fear. No shame in letting your runner go.

    I imagine it will make you a stronger runner and pacer!

  2. Thanks Coda Runner!

    While it did not do much for my own ego, David got a boost by dropping me. I am pacing again at the SF100, and that runner has already announced he will be trying to drop me.

    I guess it goes with the job...

  3. Great report Qen. That was a really fun day for me as well.